Here's what international students really think about studying in Oz

January 06, 2017
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If you’re studying in Sydney, you may have noticed us locals complain about a lot – the lockout laws, how expensive smashed avo toast is and how many rules there are (despite our depiction as a laidback culture). So it might surprise you that Sydney has been ranked one of the most popular and the most desirable city to live for international students. Following this annual report, the City of Sydney commissioned a report by UTS to find out what international students really think about studying here.

International students agree the cost of accommodation is ridiculous

While we can all agree that the rental prices in Sydney are stupidly expensive, finding accommodation is even harder for international students. Unlike other countries, Australia doesn’t offer a whole lot of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), so international students must turn to the private rental sector. With a lot of competition for housing, international students often find themselves at a disadvantage without previous rental history or an understanding of rental contracts and tenancy law.

“I didn’t know I had to have bond or deposit even before I moved in… I had no friends to tell me,” noted one participant of the study.

While 54 per cent of respondents indicated that finding accommodation wasn’t difficult or only a little difficult, those who found it difficult largely attributed this to the cost of accommodation being far too expensive.

“I would definitely tell people to come to Sydney. You get good education, although expensive and you get to see many beautiful place.

Finding employment and money is a major concern

Unlike Australians participating in study abroad programs overseas, it is common for international students to work while studying. While 82 per cent of respondents believed they were treated fairly by employers, exploitation of international students still exists. International students are also restricted to working only 20 hours a week at a part-time job. This often isn’t enough to cover the cost of living, as many come to Australia with a limited amount of savings.

“I need to work more than 20 hours a week… I get paid so badly that 12 hour days are normal for me… working so much does mean I get less time to study and see my friends," said another anonymous participant of the study.

A study by USYD Business School found at least 60 per cent of international students working in Sydney were paid below the minimum wage, particularly in retail and hospitality.

Study fees are expensive, but international students say it’s worth it

The study documented that one of the main reasons international students worked (and also why many resort to gambling) is in order to afford university fees. In addition to paying higher fees than local students, there are no travel concession cards for international students who have to pay full price.

“One student I know has said to me that they have had to choose between eating well or paying for public transport to get to class.”

Sydney is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world… even more than in Europe.

Yet when asked about their satisfaction with studying and living in Sydney, responses were high, albeit higher for living here (86 per cent) than studying here (80 per cent).

“I would definitely tell people to come to Sydney. You get good education, although expensive and you get to see many beautiful place… people are friendly too,” says one international student.

International and domestic students don’t often mix

While many international students anticipated making friends with locals in Sydney, most were met with disappointment. In order to avoid isolation, many international students make friends within their own networks, while the mingling of domestic and international students was found to be “challenging and rare”.

One international student said “It would be great to have more opportunities outside of class to meet Australians”, while another attributed the lack of interaction to the language barrier.

“Australian slang is often hard to interpret… there should be a pocket book guide that provides a list of Australian slang and their meanings for international students to use.”

Despite the difficulties faced by international students, many still found Sydney to be a multicultural and diverse city to live in.

“Sydney is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world… even more than in Europe… this is one reason I wanted to come here… you can see the diversity in the streets.”

Overall, the study concluded that while international students are satisfied studying in Australia and their needs are being met, there is definitely room for improvement.

Lauren Piggott

Image: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Flickr Creative Commons license